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Last year, on a sunny August day, I had a memorable introduction to a well-known Scottish tradition - the Highland Games. The town was full to bursting with tourists, competitors and families of people who live in Nairn back for the occasion. Shortly after noon a loud procession of pipers and drummers, dancers, local dignitaries and hangers-on progressed down the main road through Nairn. They came to a stop in a huge grass arena overlooking the sea.
The Games had something for everyone. Runners raced round the local area and were individually announced and cheered as they returned to the arena throughout the afternoon. There were stalls and food for those who wanted refreshment - many people brought their own picnics. There were competitions galore, at times several events taking place at the same time in different areas of the arena. Events ranged from Tug of War to the Sword Dance (the dancer performs an intricate dance over swords placed on the ground). I was near the Highland Dancing stand and was hugely impressed by the precision and commitment of the young dancers who performed and competed there.
Towards the end of the afternoon I saw men Tossing the Caber. The caber is a long piece of wood, normally a trimmed down tree trunk, that the competitor lifts at its base - the thin end of the caber. Placing is more important than distance in this contest. The competitorís aim is to make a straight throw which will create a 180 degree turn, so that the thin end of the caber is facing directly away from him. The caber is huge, confirmed by the strain on the faces and in the muscles of the men that choose to participate in this sport.
Highland Games, a long time Scottish tradition, draw crowds in their thousands. The current, Victorian influenced incarnation of the Games manifested in the nineteenth century, after the Highland Clearances. Nairnís first Highland Games took place in 1869 with an estimated attendance of 8,000, It is said that the origins of Highland Games go back to the eleventh century. They provided an informal job interview, long before the term had currency. Those who could prove their strength, their speed, their musicianship were worthy of support from clan chiefs.
Highland Games are a huge tourist attraction; they are also social occasions which bring communities together. They are good for local businesses, give families a chance to reunite and are a great family day out. Highland Games take place over the summer throughout the Scottish Highlands Ė they are a fun day out or a good focal point for a longer holiday
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